The next morning, Mr. Heywood and Mr. Stringer rode out at first light, while Georgiana and Otis boarded a coach once more to take them to Sanditon. The couple planned to gather Georigiana’s things and to formally apprise Sidney of the marriage and the end of his guardianship. With them, they took letters from Charlotte’s parents and from their most prominent friends in London, including Mrs. Fellows, in support of the nuptials and as to the character of Otis Molyneux.
Next to her marriage, control over her inheritance gave Georgiana the most excitement, and she quietly promised Charlotte that James Stringer could expect a commission from herself and Otis to design a new home for them.
“Nowhere near Sanditon,” Georgiana laughed. “Perhaps halfway between London and Willingden. Then, you could at least stop and see me on your way to London.”
“I shall visit you wherever you settle,” Charlotte promised.
“And perhaps you shall bring Mr. Stringer with you,” Georgiana added slyly. Charlotte pretended not to hear.
It was a week before Georgiana’s first letter arrived to update Charlotte.
“I have so much to report. I cannot describe with enough words the commotion, the chaos, the turmoil that our arrival as man and wife created in Sanditon. In my five days’ absence, Sidney has been roaming between Sanditon and London, and, based on a comparison of his efforts to our journeys, we barely escaped detection a number of times. Furthermore, based on my queries, it appears that it never occurred to him to send any inquiries to you or to Willingden; perhaps he thought it too obvious that I would seek assistance from you, and that I would therefore avoid that plan. I am glad, therefore, for many reasons that I visited you and your charming family. Once Sidney determined that our marriage had taken place in a legal and formal fashion, and before so many of our friends, he returned to Sanditon and, to his credit, took steps to transfer authority over my accounts to me. On the other hand, he has refused to consider himself a friend to us, and any social connections have ceased.
“In sum: Without any challenge to the legitimacy of my marriage, especially in light of the letters that your own parents and our friends provided, I am now as free a woman as I wish to be, subject only to the desires and demands of a most reasonable and affectionate husband. We are determined to return to London as soon as possible and take a residence there; until then, we are in rooms at the inn, cut off from those few I once considered friends in Sanditon. Nevertheless, Charlotte, I am far happier today than ever I was before.
“Mr. Stringer’s role, happily, has remained a secret; his friends here know only that he has sought work elsewhere in Sussex, and as you know, what was once a ruse has now become a reality.
“Moving on to other Sanditon gossip: to the commotion we created, more was added by Lady Denham. I regret to report that after my departure, but unrelated to it, she had been taken ill, and finally succumbed but a few hours before our coach arrived in Sanditon. Lady Denham’s death – rather, the disposition of her property upon her death – has become the greatest topic of conversation – rather, debate – in Sanditon, providing an able distraction from my own circumstances. As I write, nothing but uncertainty about her final wishes is certain. And perhaps none of us was surprised to see Sir Edward Denham and Miss Clara Brereton return to Sanditon, much like vultures, to survey the carrion of greed.
“I receive most of my information from my maid, who has happily rejoined me and takes very good care of us and also looks forward to returning to London. I shall of course write again, but hope to see you once more very soon upon our return to London.
“Your dearest friend, Georgiana Molyneux”
Charlotte replied, without having much to report, and waited impatiently for her friend’s next letter – not only because she was curious about the goings-on at Sanditon, but because life had become rather dull in comparison to the excitement she had experienced in the past fortnight. Her father had returned from Lord Embrey’s estate alone; Mr. Stringer had found a patron keenly interested in his work and in need of an assistant to manage his various projects upon his own estate, Reddings, and upon those of his friends. “Lord Embrey is leading a movement to modernize,” Mr. Heywood explained. “To innovate, to build a metaphorical bridge between classical design and modern needs. His ideas are remarkable, and found an ardent supporter in Mr. Stringer.” Lord Embrey was familiar with the Sanditon plans and construction, and the reputation of the capable foreman had traveled along with word of the town’s progress. Thus, Mr. Stringer was promptly installed at a cottage at Reddings, and when Mr. Heywood parted from him, the young man was eager to return to studying the many plans and sketches that would become his new bedfellows.
Charlotte was fully gratified that her plans for Mr. Stringer’s career had taken root in such a remarkable way, but she found herself wishing to be a closer witness to his work. In Sanditon, she had rarely experienced more satisfaction than when she had assisted Tom Parker with his planning and books, and when she offered suggestions for improvement in recordkeeping or communications with suppliers, and when she had proposed the notion of the regatta. This fact, of course, made her recall Sidney Parker with a jolt; but it also made her realize that much of her disappointment lay not in the loss of Sidney’s affections but in the loss of her influence, albeit a minor one, in the business and development of Sanditon.
Much of her energies, therefore, were diverted to her own family. The children found themselves more often at their studies, their faces more often washed, and their mealtimes more regulated than they were used to. Charlotte ignored their complaints and persisted in her management, and soon her parents found that they were not working so hard to avoid their children, and their appreciation for Charlotte’s return, and especially her newfound determination, was great indeed.
Georgiana’s second letter finally arrived. Charlotte was alone in the sitting room when the maid brought the letter to her, and she opened it eagerly. Her shriek of excitement was heard throughout the house, and when she ran toward the kitchen, where her mother had been helping to prepare a custard, her mother came running out, concern on her face and a whisk in her hand.
“What is it, Charlotte? What has happened?”
“Mother, the most remarkable news. Georgiana has written about the details of Lady Denham’s will. It has become generally known to whom she has left certain parts of her estate. Esther has, unsurprisingly, inherited the bulk of the estate. And, also unsurprisingly, Lady Denham specified that she has left nothing toward the Sanditon projects or to the Parkers.”
“So what is the remarkable part of the letter?”
“Mama, Lady Denham has left a small portion to me – five hundred pounds!” Charlotte could hardly believe it herself. She handed the letter to her mother. “It is merely second-hand information, but comes by way of Georgiana’s maid, who has some connection to the staff at Sanditon House. I did not believe that Lady Denham held me such regard. I admit, I always felt she enjoyed my company, and that my conversation was –.”
“A refreshing change from those who would never dare to challenge or disagree with her?” Mrs. Heywood smiled, and returned the letter. “I know you too well Charlotte, but I can also imagine that a woman like Lady Denham would appreciate your personality and even reward you for it. Congratulations.”
“And do you see in the letter – Georgiana describes a yet unknown person who will similarly receive a small portion. She has not yet been able to determine who it is.”
“Perhaps another willful conversational partner whose company the great lady enjoyed,” Mrs. Heywood replied. “Well, my dear heiress – does your newfound wealth prevent you from helping me prepare for dinner?”
“I shall lower myself for your sake, dear mother.”
Charlotte’s inheritance was soon confirmed. Lady Denham’s attorneys and agents worked quickly, and within another month Charlotte found herself walking out of a bank in London with her father, now in possession of a greater fortune than she had ever imagined for herself. Her brothers and sisters had assembled a formal list of suggestions for her immediate spending of the money, which suggestions primarily involved sweets, ponies, puppies, toys, and gowns. But Charlotte preferred investment over spending, and arranged the funds to sit quietly and earn slowly until she could determine their best use. An idea was forming in the back of her mind, but she wasn’t yet able to quite see its final shape.
Meanwhile, Georgiana and Otis made their final departure from Sanditon toward London, and stopped once again in Wellingden. They were greeted with much excitement, and this time stayed for an entire week. Georgiana had another update: Esther and her husband, Lord Babington, had undertaken to use their inheritance to invest in the Parker’s development of Sanditon.
“Despite Lady Denham’s wishes to the contrary!” Charlotte exclaimed. “How like Esther.”
“Very like. But they seem to believe in the prospects that the resort offers, and Lord Babington has made his involvement in the planning and decisions part of the agreement. Tom Parker will likely see his vision come to life, but he will have to share in the credit for its accomplishment.”
“And do the other Parkers’ plans remain as … as they were before?” Charlotte asked.
“Do you mean, whether Sidney is still intent on marrying? That was unclear. The talk of Babington’s decision to invest overwhelmed any talk of the marriage plans. But I did not hear any plans of cancellation.”
“And what of the mystery beneficiary?” Charlotte asked.
“We learned nothing further of his existence or his location. Ellen” – this was Georgiana’s maid – “seemed to believe, based on the speculation of the Sanditon House servants, that it is someone, perhaps an old servant, with an old connection to the family. But none of the current staff can speak to it with any authority.”
Charlotte was struck by a thought. “Georgiana, did Mr. Stringer ever tell you that he was acquainted with Lord Denham – that he had been promised some kind of patronage by the old man, when he himself was quite young?”
Georgiana was clearly surprised. “No, indeed. How remarkable. Do you think it’s possible that Mr. Stringer is the beneficiary?”
“It is possible; however, not likely. It was Lord Denham’s intent at stake at that time, not Lady Denham’s. My understanding is that nothing came to fruition; Lord Denham died and no account made on Mr. Stringer’s behalf. The promise was too informal and Mr. Stringer was too young to speak on his own behalf, and had no one to speak for him.”
“How unfortunate for him. Of all the people that I met in Sanditon, Mr. Stringer is the one who could make the best use of out an inheritance, no matter the size.”
“My thoughts precisely,” Charlotte agreed. And although she continued to converse with Georgiana on other topics, such as furnishings for a new London home, Charlotte’s thoughts began toying with a new idea.